Court wades into 11th-hour battle between Quebec and feds on gun registry

MONTREAL — It was a triumph in Parliament but a setback in court Thursday for the Harper Tories. On a day the government fulfilled a longstanding goal and saw legislation to destroy the federal long-gun registry set to receive royal assent, it was stymied in a Quebec courtroom.

MONTREAL — It was a triumph in Parliament but a setback in court Thursday for the Harper Tories.

On a day the government fulfilled a longstanding goal and saw legislation to destroy the federal long-gun registry set to receive royal assent, it was stymied in a Quebec courtroom.

Quebec Superior Court agreed to order a delay in the deletion of registry data from that province, following a request by the provincial government.

The court has granted the reprieve until further motions for an injunction can be argued in a Montreal courtroom next week, as the Quebec-Ottawa registry fight moves to its next phase. The province wants to keep the data for Quebec so that it can set up its own provincial registry.

In the interim, the registry will continue to function in Quebec — long arms will continue to be registered and the information will be kept for now.

“For the moment, it’s the status quo that is maintained. The information will continued to be registered,” said Quebec government lawyer Eric Dufour.

“The information will be continued to be amassed for an eventual provincial database.”

Next Thursday and Friday, another judge will hear further arguments regarding the case, which could drag on for some time.

The Quebec government has argued the federal data will be integral in forming its own provincial registry, and needs the information to be kept up to date while legal arguments are heard.

That legal battle was playing out in Montreal while, in Ottawa, legislation to kill the registry had sailed through the Senate and was set to become law on Thursday afternoon.

The granting of such an order protecting the data was not automatic, and depended on the persuasion of a judge through legal arguments.

Ironically, it was some remarks by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews — a committed registry foe — that may have persuaded the Quebec judge to grant the temporary reprieve.

Toews’s remarks helped convince the judge that the situation was urgent and warranted a safeguard order until the case could be heard next week.

“As soon as the legislation is passed there is a requirement to destroy the data,” Toews told a news conference earlier Thursday.

Quebec lawyers rushed to share that news with Justice Jean-Francois de Grandpre. Upon being informed of Toews’ comments, de Grandpre said in his ruling that it was necessary to issue an order.

The court order applies only to data from Quebec.

Information from other provinces is still subject to destruction — although a federal lawyer says that deletion process won’t be so easy, and might actually take months.

That federal lawyer had been trying to persuade the judge, before Toews’s comments, that there was no urgency because the registry data would not be destroyed for some time.

According to federal lawyer Claude Joyal, the earliest the registry documentation would be deleted is in August and he assured the court that the process couldn’t happen overnight. He continued to maintain that position in court, even after Toews’ comments.

Quebec will argue next week that it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to destroy the information if it means thwarting the public policy of another level of government.

The registry battle has been particularly emotional in Quebec, which was the epicentre of the national gun-control movement after the Polytechnique massacre of 1989.

The Quebec government has never accepted the view of registry critics, like the Harper Tories, who call the measure useless in deterring violent crime.

The provincial justice minister said Quebec had no choice but to use the courts, because the federal government wouldn’t talk.

Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier expressed satisfaction with Thursday’s legal developments, while warning that the contest is far from won.

“It’s clear that when the first inning goes well, it’s better than when it goes badly,” he told reporters in Quebec City.

“We’re obviously happy with the decision. That being said, this decision is good for one week and there’s still a battle ahead.”

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